Chicago Cubs: Did last winter cost the team a chance at success?

(Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images) /
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Chicago Cubs
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Chicago Cubs: Can the team depend on Brandon Morrow?

During this competitive window and the rebuild that preceded,  there has been more turnover at closer than perhaps any other spot on the roster. Carlos Mármol, Kevin Gregg, José Veras, Hector RondonAroldis Chapman, Wade Davis, Brandon Morrow and Pedro Strop have all been the closer since Theo Epstein took over the front office. And that doesn’t even count Justin Wilson, who was the Detroit Tigers’ closer when the Cubs paid a high price to trade for him.

Last offseason, the Cubs could have spent tens of millions of dollars to re-sign Davis or they could have looked for a more creative approach. Davis was going into his age 32 season. He eventually signed a three-year, $52 million contract with the Colorado Rockies. That marked the highest annual salary ever for a relief pitcher.

The right-hander struggled at times during the 2018 season. His 4.13 ERA was almost twice as high as it had been the year before with the Cubs (2.30). But Davis finished with 43 saves and helped the Rockies defeat the Cubs in the National League Wild Card game.

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Greg Holland was the other proven closer on the free agent market. He had recorded 41 saves and a 3.41 ERA in 2017. However, there were some concerns with his peripheral statistics including a high flyball rate. Holland ended up being one of the victims of last year’s strange offseason. He ended up signing a one-year, $14 million contract after passing on higher offers earlier in the season. Holland also had a disastrous season for the Cardinals

Brandon Morrow appeared to be the perfect solution. He was dominant as Kenley Jansen‘s primary setup man in 2017. Unfortunately the Cubs got to see just how dominate as he gave up no runs and just one hit in 4 2/3  innings while striking out 7 Cubs during last year’s NLCS.

Morrow ended up signing a two-year, $18 million deal with the Cubs. When he pitched, he did what we expected (1.47 ERA, 22 saves). But Morrow, like Darvish, has a history of arm injuries. The Cubs closer went on the disabled list. He only pitched 30 2/3 innings over 35 games this year. And most importantly he wasn’t available for the Cubs down the stretch and during the postseason.

So was it a mistake to sign Morrow? Well, when you sign pitchers with a history of arm injuries you shouldn’t be surprised when they hit the shelf. But the other free agent closers were going to cost a lot more and neither one of them had a great season. Davis’s multi-year contract might be a financial burden in the future.

The Cubs planned on being careful with how they used Morrow. However, between May 29 and June 2, he pitched four times in five days including last three days in a row. Knowing they had perhaps pushed Morrow too far, the Cubs didn’t use him again until June 6.

Unfortunately he gave up two runs that day and only recorded one out. Some people point to that series of days as the place where the Cubs may have used Morrow too much. Perhaps if the Cubs do stick to using him more carefully in 2019, he will both pitch well for them and be available when they need their closer the most.